By Monica Staton
As a bassist, Jeremiah Hunt is known for his versatility, his rich, full-toned sound and his swing, no matter the context. He’s played as a part of trumpeter Marquis Hill’s Blacktet and drummer Makaya McCraven’s ensemble.
One of the qualities of being a successful musician is that you have no other choice. Jeremiah Hunt never planned to fall back on a plan B. Plan A works for him. His former bandmate from The Main Squeeze, drummer Reuben Gingrich says, “I think the coolest thing about Jeremiah’s playing is how natural his playing is. He makes it seem effortless and he has an uncanny ability to always pick the perfect parts for the music without overthinking anything. Not only does he has an amazing groove and chops but he is also a very selfless and supportive musician and I think that’s why everyone wants to play with him!”
Hunt’s right-hand technique comes a lot from the upright bass. He approaches the electric bass in the same way he approaches the upright. He gets the sound from the wood, it’s a natural strength from playing the upright. He’s devoted to both.
During my interview with Hunt, he described how he’d moved to Macau early in his career, at the age of twenty—an island located on China’s southern coast—to play as a part of a pop band called Funky Deep. He talked about his time with The Main Squeeze, an ensemble Hunt describes as a funk-soul-rock ’n’ roll band. They toured nationally and internationally for seven years until he decided he needed a change. Today, he continues to play with countless notable musicians.
Was the upright bass the first instrument you picked up?
The upright bass was the third instrument. I started off playing trumpet in fourth grade, I kinda followed in my brother’s footsteps, he’d pick up the trumpet, I picked up the trumpet, he’d go into dance, I would go into dance, but eventually I just stuck with trumpet. I played the euphonium after that. Its like a baritone with a small tuba attached. I played trumpet and euphonium in concert band and jazz band. Then eventually when I got to high school I switched to electric bass and then I switched to upright bass shortly after that.
You’re one of the most sought after bassist in Chicago, what’s the formula for your success?
I try to get in where I fit in. I tend to gravitate towards the music scene that is playing the type of music that I like which is pretty much soul music—a type of music that makes you feel a certain kind of way. I tend to gravitate towards those things, so I tend to meet a lot of people in those scenes and I just like to be around them and play with people and I think that makes people want to play with me more. We just like playing with each other.
Musicians appreciate playing with good musicians. However, they can also appreciate a bandmate that’s fun to hang out with. What makes you a good hang?
I would like to think that I’m a pretty nice guy. When I first moved to Chicago in 2012 I would invite people to my crib every Thursday night, just to hang out shoot the breeze, I’d cook some food, have a couple beers, relax and play music. When I first moved here I think everyone got a good vibe and it went from there.
Chicago’s your home base, why not New York City?
I moved here with a funk-soul-rock ’n’ roll band—The Main Squeeze. I was just ready for the next thing. I was playing in China and just hopping around the world and I was just ready for the next thing so Main Squeeze asked me to be their bass player. They were choosing between New York and Chicago and I went with the flow and we chose Chicago. When I arrived it was my first time to Chicago, I didn’t really know the music scene was what it was and I was blown away. That’s why I decided to stay here.
Describe the early days of playing with The Main Squeeze.
It was a culture shock because of the environment change. I was living in Macau and then coming back to America and living a hippie lifestyle with these guys from Indiana. I’m from the South so it was definitely a culture shift for me. When Michael Morrison came aboard—I was like, cool, we got a manager now and then [producer] Randy Jackson contacted him. I just went along with the ride and it was amazing.
How did you get your start?
After two years of college, I joined the Disney all-American College Band, which is where I met Reuben Gingrich, in 2009. I went to Macau directly after that. Macau is a forty-five minute ferry ride from Hong Kong—it’s the Vegas of China. There are a bunch of casinos and lounges and I was in a Top 40 band playing in one of the largest hotels, The Venetian. We would play in the lounge over there. I’d get hired for these contracts and I would go out there for a few months every year from 2009 to 2012. The band was called Funky Deep and it was produced by my cousin James “Delisco” Beeks. I was twenty when I started performing in Macau.
When did you conclude that you wanted to be a professional musician?
There were many points when I decided and re-decided my career. By the 6th grade I pretty much decided what I wanted to do—I knew that music was going to be involved because I loved it a lot, nothing really stimulated my brain as much as music did and still does.
You never had a plan B?
No, not really. My dad put it in my head to become an engineer and that’s the thing about my parents, they always supported me. They knew that I wanted to be a musician and they did not mess with that at all.
Who were your earliest influences?
My family. My mother and my sister—my mom taught me what it means to have humility and keep my head on straight and do a whole bunch of stuff all at once. She raised three kids by herself and that was inspiring for me. My dad, he’s talented as well, he passed his talents on to us.
You have an amazing swing; how does your sound fit into Marquis Hill’s Blacktet?
Marquis Hill really likes to play with someone who’s open to be themselves on stage and play where they come from. When I first started playing with Marquis I listened to the bass players he uses—Junius Paul and Josh Ramos—and I would just pay attention to the differences in their approaches, they’re just open to being themselves and they play where they come from, I noticed that recently.
I love Marquis’ music, when I got in there, I took Josh Ramos’ sound and I did a few of the things he was doing—he tends to play funkier on top of the beats—funky electric bass lines and Junius is more laid back. I mixed the two together and I play swing too. I spent a big portion of my life doing that so I got the concept down and when you put that together, I kinda fit in well in Marquis’ group.
How did you two meet?
We met at Andy’s. The first album I listened to was Sounds of the City. He had this tune I was really into called “The Wrath of Lark.” That weekend I saw that he was going to play at Andy’s, this was when I first moved to Chicago, so I was a Chicago nerd, I was looking for the best music. I got the first row seat and I was sitting there by myself. I listened to the whole concert and just introduced myself and that’s how we met.
How does your sound fit in with Makaya McCraven’s music?
Every time I play with Makaya I get more and more comfortable. Makaya has been in Chicago for a very long time, Marquis grew up here and all these other cats are coming from the same place. I got a glimpse of what my sound is with Marquis and I applied that to Makaya’s band, so that’s how I kinda fit in there.
What is the Chicago sound in terms of jazz music?
Sleek and soulful???
Are there musicians you aspire to play with?
I have always wanted to play a duo with [bassist] Christian McBride, it would be cool. Just like the top cats—Kenny Garret is up there, I would have liked to play with Mulgrew Miller before he passed—that didn’t happen. I got to play with Willie Pickens a couple times and so I’m grateful for that. The list goes on and on.
You started playing with The Main Squeeze in 2012?
The Main Squeeze was and still is successful, why did you decide to leave the band?
We had traveled a lot. We were constantly touring. With a band like this we had a lot of rehearsals and it would get exhausting really quick—the time and effort put into the rehearsals—and by the time we were done, we would have to think about packing and touring for this and that. I was kind of exhausted and worn out and also they decided they were going to move to L.A. We had been to L.A. a couple times and I really like L.A., but I just figured that L.A. was not the place for me.
That was one of the reasons, and I wanted to spend more time in Chicago and get involved with musicians here, also I really wanted to play with Marquis Hill, he started calling me for gigs regularly around the time Main Squeeze decided to move to L.A. and I knew I was going to have to make a choice—if I wanted to play with Marquis or if I wanted to play with this one band in hopes that we’d make it one day. I decided to stay in Chicago and I’m glad I did, it was the right choice for me.
Now you play predominantly jazz music, is it your choice?
I am at a point I get to choose the styles of music that I play, and I play many styles. Growing up I was in the orchestra—I play classical music, jazz, funk, rock—and so it is nice to be able to choose what scene I’m going to be dominant in.
How have your early roots in music impacted your sound?
I’m going back to my family on this one. Before I picked up an instrument I already had music ingrained in me. My mom and dad would always play really good music—church music, soul, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson. They would play all the good stuff, it sounded good and felt good. During my teenage years we’d listen to Yellowcard, they’re also from Jacksonville, and a lot of soul rock bands. We were always looking for the good stuff. Whenever we played music in the home that’s when we’d all kinda get together and that’s where it started from.
Which band were you playing with, when you had the realization you were a professional musician?
It was with Marquis’ band. Music is fun, I don’t see it as a job, it’s really fun for me, so usually when you come to that realization it’s usually because of something you did wrong. I was scheduled to go to Paris and the morning I was supposed to fly out I realized that my passport wasn’t with me, I had lost it, and, man, did I get it. I missed the whole gig. Marquis and I had the talk and everyone was kinda pissed off at me and they had to get another bass player, it was an international thing . . . That’s when I came to the realization like, hold up, I do this for a living, I have to stay on top of it, you are a professional, so act like it. That’s when I came to that realization.
Was there an element of romance in your mind about the life of a jazz musician?
At some point there probably was something that manifested from my mind of what I thought my lifestyle would be, I can’t recall when that happened, I just do it and that’s what it turns out to be. I just like playing music that allows me to be completely communicative with the people that I’m on stage with. I’ve visited over thirty cities and ten countries in 2019.
Who inspires you?
I always start off with my dad. Every time we’d come see him on the weekend, he was always positive. He’d always tell me don’t reach for the stars, reach beyond the stars. Also [internationally acclaimed jazz percussionist] Vincent Davis, he’s a Chicago local, he taught me a lot, like finding myself and my sound—he understands what I’m doing here and that means a lot, he’s like my second father.
And finally, what in your opinion is the future of jazz?
A friend of mine [producer] Jahaan Sweet said, “You can’t really anticipate where music is going to go. All you can do is make what you want to make. Be who you are and create what you want to create”—that stuck with me.
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